Review: Generation Chef

Generation Chef, Karen Stabiner

Published September 13th 2016 by Avery

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC received from publisher

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Inside what life is really like for the new generation of professional cooks—a captivating tale of the make-or-break first year at a young chef’s new restaurant.

For many young people, being a chef is as compelling a dream as being a rock star or professional athlete. Skill and creativity in the kitchen are more profitable than ever before, as cooks scramble to reach the top—but talent isn’t enough. Today’s chef needs the business savvy of a high-risk entrepreneur, determination, and big dose of luck.

The heart of Generation Chef is the story of Jonah Miller, who at age twenty-four attempts to fulfill a lifelong dream by opening the Basque restaurant Huertas in New York City, still the high-stakes center of the restaurant business for an ambitious young chef. Miller, a rising star who has been named to the 30-Under-30 list of both Forbes and Zagat, quits his job as a sous chef, creates a business plan, lines up investors, leases a space, hires a staff, and gets ready to put his reputation and his future on the line.

Journalist and food writer Karen Stabiner takes us inside Huertas’s roller-coaster first year, but also provides insight into the challenging world a young chef faces today—the intense financial pressures, the overcrowded field of aspiring cooks, and the impact of reviews and social media, which can dictate who survives.

I’ve become a Top Chef addict and I love trying the food of Chicago’s celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard so I was really excited to read this story of a new NYC restaurant opening and through their first year.  My husband jokes about opening a diner one day and I think this book proves my nerves could never handle it!  From the attempts to find backers, to find the perfect location and then to both hire and retain the best staff – that’s not even getting into the cooking.  You clearly need nerves of steel to open your own kitchen especially on this kind of scale, in New York – at age 26!

The access Stabiner had to the Huertas staff to put this book out was fantastic.  I can’t imagine how she basically lived at the restaurant for a year and didn’t insert herself into the story.  Just reading along I was so nervous for the critics reviews to come in so I can’t imagine how Stabiner didn’t let her own emotions show.  I thought it was so interesting to follow how Miller first conceived of Huertas and then let the concept flow a bit to meet the wants of both his customers and reviews.  I also enjoyed the glimpses into the paths that other chefs took from Izard to others in California or Minnesota; it was very cool to see how differently things move all over the country.  

I would have liked the personal stories between Miller and his partners and staff to be more in depth, but that’s just me being kind of voyeuristic perhaps.  After all these people were still working together largely when the book was published and that might have been a bit much.  I really felt like I needed to follow this with a reread of Sweetbitter for a really juicy peak behind the kitchen walls.   

Let me just say I am hugely proud of myself for stifling the urge to Google Huertas until I finished this book!  As I read I was so extremely curious to know if they were still in business or what might have happened.  I managed to control myself – yes I don’t peak at Christmas presents either – but it was satisfying search to run as soon as I put my kindle down.  Now I know where I’d like to go when I finally visit New York one day because Miller’s food sounds delicious. If you like food and watching the restaurant industry this is definitely a fun read – and hungry read. Have snacks handy!   

Thank you Avery for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

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